GONZALES - Brian Palmer, associate pastor of First Pilgrim Calvary Missionary Baptist Church in Geismar, prayed before a gathering of about 30 people at Friday night’s Stop the Violence prayer service, held at the Lamar-Dixon Expo Center’s ballroom.
Organizer Sonia Mulberry invited friends and family of three Ascension Parish residents who were killed this year - Todd Hall, 28, found shot to death Feb. 17 in a Geismar park; Carlos Austin, 21, shot outside a convenience store in Gonzales on June 4; and Darren Smylie, 19, shot June 27 in his Darrow home.
Palmer prayed for peace for those gathered in front of him, something he knows is possible through prayer, he said. Carlos Austin was his nephew.
“Dear God, I’m asking you to touch these families,” Palmer said. “Even though our loved ones have gone and passed away, they are not forgotten, because they are in our hearts, they are in our minds, and they are in our spirits. We know that one day, Father God, there is peace and hope and love, and there’ll be no more dying, and no more crying.”
Though it began as a rally against violence, Mulberry said what the families needed now was healing.
“We’re going to come together and wrap our arms around these families,” Mulberry told the crowd. “This thing has affected every household in Ascension Parish in some way, shape or form. I know it’s affected mine.”
Planning for the rally actually began months ago, before Smylie’s death, said Mulberry, who, with a group of volunteers, began organizing the event.
Last summer, she said, her son was attacked on three separate occasions while walking in their neighborhood, just down the street from the neighborhood where Smylie was killed.
“In the process of taking him to court (for those incidents), I looked around and saw so many kids in the juvenile justice system. You go to court on Juvenile Court day, and there are 75 to 100 kids there every time,” Mulberry said.
She began to think about why crimes happen in the first place, she said, and how young people deal with the aftermath.
After Smylie’s death, she received calls from members of the Darrow community where she also lives. “They’re asking, ?What can we do?’ It just seems that a lot of kids were hurting. Aside from his family, there were probably 200 kids his age at the funeral.
“Kids are dealing with this by riding around, some drinking and driving, and that’s not a productive way to handle it. We decided we needed to do something now, something more intimate, and let them voice their concerns,” she said.
Mulberry’s hope is to give friends of the three victims a safe forum to talk about what happened to their friends, and better tools to handle the loss.
“I’m a lifelong resident of Ascension Parish, and I’m very, very concerned about what’s going on,” Mulberry said. “(Smylie) was a friend of my son’s. I’ve known his mother since they were babies. And these deaths, this is just unfamiliar territory for us.”
Smylie’s father, Darren Sr., and his mother, Chyvetta Broden, attended the service, as did members of Austin’s family.
The Rev. Cloyd Cann, from the Do Right Full Gospel Baptist Church in Gonzales, was Smylie’s Boy Scout leader, and remembered him as the first to jump in when help was needed, and the first to earn just about every badge.
“When I heard about Darren, it hurt me so bad,” Cann said. “This stuff that’s going on in Ascension Parish, in New Orleans, in Baton Rouge - it ain’t just starting now. It’s just coming to our town.”
Cann encouraged those present to remember to take time out, when they saw someone suffering, or heading in the wrong direction, just to talk.
“You’ve heard that saying, ?It takes a village to raise a child’? Well that’s true. When I was a young man, nobody fussed at me when I was doing wrong. They pulled me aside and talked to me,” Cann said.
“Don’t fuss at them. They’re going through enough pressure as it is,” Cann said. Setting a good example, and taking time to show you care, he said, is enough to set people on the right path.
Mulberry said she and other community leaders are still planning a larger, more formal rally later this month, with sessions for youth to talk about conflict resolution, peer pressure, and other social issues.
“But we decided to do something fast, something now, to offer prayers for these families,” she said.